Broad Strokes for Lead Paint Folks

Jan 9, 2007 at 3:40 pm

The City of St. Louis could make case law if it can convince the Missouri Supreme Court it has a right to sue paint manufacturers over lead poisoning -- even if the city isn't sure which companies are to blame.

The suit, filed against Benjamin Moore & Co., Millennium Chemicals, NL Industries, XBD Inc., PPG Industries and The Sherwin-Williams Co., seeks to recover the costs the city has incurred and will incur in the future to assess, abate and remediate lead paint. The city claims that the manufacturers knew the paint would be used in housing and that the paint would deteriorate over time, causing a public health hazard.

In an opinion handed down last week, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals sided with an earlier court decision that the city did not have legal grounds to sue manufacturers because it could not specifically determine which brand of paint was present in affected properties.

But citing the "general importance of and interest" in the issue of lead poisoning, the appeals court transferred the case to the Supreme Court "to reexamine existing law relating to this issue." The Associated Press reports that the Missouri Supreme Court has yet to set a hearing date for the case.

The idea of suing paint manufacturers for the city's lead paint problems is not new. In 2000 then-Mayor Clarence Harmon proposed the notion (for more see RFT features here and here.)

More recently, in February 2006, Rhode Island won a similar lawsuit against Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC. Clean-up costs for that suit could reach $3 billion.

-Chad Garrison